Sunday, December 16, 2012

Time to reconsider extracurriculars

As the fallout from Bill 115 continues across Ontario, I've had this conversation a number of times with colleagues and friends. It's time to reconsider how extracurricular activities are offered in our community schools.
Currently, running an extracurricular requires the presence of a paid school-board employee. That's usually a teacher, but can also be a support staff member depending on the activity. This applies whether it's in the elementary or secondary panel, whether it's a sports team or other athletics, after-school club or something that usually takes place during school hours at lunch or recess breaks. Even if the employee isn't directly running the activity in question, her or his presence is required even in an advisory role for the activity to be able to function.
In contractual disputes -- legitimate or otherwise -- education-sector unions usually push their members to withdraw from these voluntary activities. In one swift move, there are no extracurriculars in schools across the province. No sports, no clubs, no after-school help, etc.
Here's the part that doesn't make sense and should really be addressed.
There are plenty of other qualified adults in school communities who could run these activities just as competently (or even more) than school staff members. In many places, these people are already involved in those activities. It's not at all uncommon in high school sports, for example, to see community volunteers coaching or assistant coaching with the presence of a teacher adviser.
Currently, with the work-to-rule campaigns and other moves, these activities are defunct-- even in those situations where there are qualified volunteers willing and able to run them.
The most-often cited reason for these activities being cancelled even with willing and qualified volunteers is liability for school boards and supervision requirements that are built into school board policies. However, these activities, as any union is only too quick to remind us, are voluntary. Even the Education Act does not make them a mandatory part of the job description.
So a voluntary activity, through policy and a lack of momentum to think about other ways of organizing it, can only be run, de facto, by the very same people whose unions remind us again and again their members volunteer for the activity.
What a brilliant way of controlling these activities so they can be cancelled during a labour dispute, only hurting the very students everyone keeps saying they care so much about.
Given we appear to be far from a scenario where these activities are made part of a school board staffer's paid work day, let's open them up to all qualified volunteers in our communities. Screen them, make them sign a piece of paper if you need to deal with liability concerns, make them accountable to principals (where community volunteers are in schools they already do report to administrators).
Aside from allowing these activities to carry on regardless of contractual issues, it also removes a huge bargaining chip from unions and firmly places these activities into the voluntary field, where withdrawal of service has not one iota of influence over contracts.
Do 'em if you wish, don't do them if you don't. By truly and meaningfully opening them up to qualified community volunteers it wouldn't make a difference.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


After the surprise move by Premier Dalton McGuinty Monday, I've been left wondering as someone whose interest in education has come to fruition in years dominated by his mandate, what McGuinty's legacy to K-12 education in Ontario should be.
There are many who were pouring their thoughts onto social media Monday, particularly from the education sector, who were only too eager to take credit for McGuinty's decision to resign and, frankly, crap all over his record on this file. Certainly, 2012 has not been the year where McGuinty has endeared himself to the education sector.
  • A budget passed in February that made it clear there would be no increases outside of the government's chosen priorities -- full-day kindergarten chief among them -- and decreases to other budgets to accommodate the necessary growth in spending for those priorities.
  • Acrimonious labour relations with sector unions and federations, starting immediately from the first discussions where the government walked in with bankruptcy lawyers.
  • A controversial memorandum of understanding with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association signed in July. 
  • A dubious move to apply the provisions of that MOU across the entire sector through Bill 115-- which, having received Royal assent, does not disappear with McGuinty's resignation. It has been challenged in court by all unions and federations for the limits it places on job action. It would take an NDP majority or a court ruling to rescind that legislation.
To lose sight of what was done by this government under McGuinty's mandate is incredibly short-sighted however and the apparent abandonment of the Liberals by those in the sector should be continually reconsidered depending on what happens in the months ahead.
This government took a sector that was reeling from two terms of Progressive Conservative rule (and still bitter from one term of NDP government) and buttressed it through decisions that saw the education ministry's budget grow dramatically from 2003-12. That's budget growth that continues, by the way, in the face of the provincial deficit and continued declining student populations that have seen an average drop of two per cent per year in the number of bums in seats in schools across the province.
Let's review.
  • The Good Places to Learn program invested billions into school renewal projects. Long-deferred building and maintenance projects that school boards had been putting off to solve budget crunches were funded, on a somewhat priority basis. Chances are your neighbourhood school today has up-to-date boilers, windows, life-safety systems and other building elements because of this program.
  • The 2003 education platform centred on the primary class size initiative. Regardless of your personal view on the impact of smaller class sizes on student achievement, this was a crucial investment in primary education in Ontario. It allowed many, many elementary school teaching positions to continue to exist at the exact moment many boards across the province were facing a drop in elementary student populations. This initiative also came with capital dollars that led to construction in schools provincewide.
  • The province also requested a moratorium (mostly followed) on school closures until its new pupil accommodation guidelines were in place. There's too much to be said about that process to fit into this post, but I argue it's a better, if still at times flawed, process than what was in place beforehand-- where boards who couldn't earn new pupil place funding were strapped to address shifting populations in growth areas and schools were closed to create the pupil-place funding needed to build new ones.
  • The 2004-08 teachers agreements, following the first provincial discussion table outcomes, saw investments in things that federations wanted in addition to provincial priorities. Thank this agreement for minor increases in specialty teachers in the elementary panel, increased prep time for elementary teachers, student success teachers in secondary schools, professional development funding and a generous wage and benefit increase.
  • The literacy and numeracy secretariat came into its own during this mandate and frankly, so did the Education Quality and Accountability Office. Not to mention the Ontario Teachers' College, which in this mandate not only saw control shift to union-elected members on the board, but also became fully responsible for sanctioning teacher-education programs.
  • The New Teacher Induction Program replaced the PC's teacher certification and re-certification initiatives with one built on mentorship and practical application of the skills new teachers need to be successful.
  • The 2008-12 agreements for the entire sector cannot be simply ignored now. At a time when the current deficit was in its infancy, the agreements gave good wage and benefit increases. While not necessarily the case for support staff, teachers in this province earn a fair wage given their education and experience and are among the best-paid in Canada and North America. These agreements also built on the improvements from the 2008-12 round.
  • Lastly, in the big-stuff roundup, full-day kindergarten. Against the advice of his own adviser, McGuinty chose to have a full-time teacher lead each of these classes (again maintaining and creating positions that continued to be threatened by declining student populations). This continues to be an unprecedented investment in early learning both in terms of people (teachers and early childhood educators) and buildings. Costs will run to $2 billion in capital and almost as much in annual operating and it's unclear heading into a new election at some point where the other parties stand on fully implementing this program.
Which isn't to say they hit all the right notes until 2012.
  • The early promise of a whole-scale revision of the education funding formula was never completed. Substantive changes to the formula have been made since 2003, but its foundations weren't dramatically altered.
  • A number of omnibus bills were passed that continued to centralize control of education at Queen's Park and the ministry offices on Bay Street.
  • A diversion into matters of character education and social engineering that has been controversial and distracted many from other issues in education.
A legacy should be evaluated taking the long view, not the short one. While one's final acts can serve to define a legacy, they don't tell the whole story. For those in K-12, we're now left with the task of weighing the full scale of this legacy against the legacies of others (such as they remain) and the proposals of those who wish to replace this government.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Unsure where the pressure lies

I read the Globe's piece earlier this week, interested to see the reference to the so-called B-memo to school boards on bargaining.
The Globe says:
The memo suggests that school boards could be facing a provincial takeover if they do not sign teacher contracts within the next six weeks, consequences a government spokesman would neither confirm nor deny.
However, having read the memo (and possible the Globe got a different version), I don't see what's there to be so bold as to say cabinet is ready over the order paper to start taking control of school boards.
From the memo, also quoted by the Globe:
In addition to being balanced, budgets must be financially sustainable over the longer term. This means local bargaining outcomes must align with the provincial funding framework.
Concluding local bargaining outcomes outside the terms of the provincial funding framework would raise concerns about a board's ability to meet its financial obligations, at which point the Minister could (my emphasis) decide to exercise her powers as set out in the Education Act, to put the board on more sustainable footing.
Nor do I see the memo suggesting the boards have their collective agreements signed before the start of the school year. I do see reference to ensuring the school year starts and continues, which to me is more of a suggestion that boards not lock out their employees. They're asked to advise on the status of negotiations by Aug. 1, but there's nothing in the memo saying the deals have to be signed before the beginning of the school year.
If anything, this memo is a shot across the federations' bow, in addition to a warning to school boards.
The province pays you. They fund you. Don't break the bounds of the funding rules they've laid out for you. Federations choosing (this time, with concessions on the table) not to engage in the discussion table process and solely engaging in local bargaining hope to outmuscle school boards many of whom cannot hope to match the federations' co-ordinated approach.
(As I mentioned in a comment earlier, funny the federations without agreements are all pissy this time with concessions on the table. They didn't seem to have those issues when the cash was flowing freely at the discussion tables in the last two rounds.)
For boards that might consider taking money out of provincial funding envelopes to cover items their unions want and the province isn't funding, this memo sets it out clearly-- fund above what we set out at your own risk.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

This government likes to talk

As a followup to the last post on the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) memorandum of understanding (MOU) comes news the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSFT) and the French-language teachers' union have re-entered discussions with the government.
Only the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and those in the sector represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) maintain their decision to walk away from the provincial discussion tables. One hopes the ETFO membership has not forgotten they lost wage parity in the 2008-12 contract because of the stubbornness of their provincial executive and that this dynamic doesn't happen again.
Over the almost nine years this government has been in office, it's proven a few things in how it talks and the actions that follow.
The Liberals like to talk. They float trial balloons like there's no tomorrow. They have a particular penchant for governing by regulation-- meaning they can say all sorts of things when the legislation is on the floor at Queen's Park but then change tone quite dramatically by the time regulations are approved by cabinet and published in the Gazette.
They like to talk tough. No more of this. So much for that.
But in the last round of tough talk, as arbitration agreements started stacking up against their attempts to implement freezes and clawbacks in some part of the broader public sector, they backed down and compromised. The opposition, as is its right, seized upon these eventual agreements as signs the Liberals are too soft, don't have the turpitude to govern, etc.
Kudos to OECTA for staying at the PDT. Just like it did for the 2008-12 contracts, the federation realized it had more to gain by continuing discussions than by huffing and guffawing to itself in the corner. The MOU is the result, with clauses that will likely see any improved items in other agreements fall into its lap as well.
I don't buy the suggestion tying the willingness to keep discussions moving to suggestions in QMI papers and elsewhere the union did so because of negative reaction to Catholic school boards' positions on Bill 13 and gay-straight alliances. Particularly since OECTA proudly stated its own members supported the legislation and the label. Or the notion that being the first to ink an MOU was aimed at sustaining the publicly funded Catholic school system in Ontario-- those teachers would still teach under a single system, even if they had different representation and different employers. The Bill 13 and single-system issues are ones for trustees and bishops, not the rank-and-file who benefit from this deal.
Returning to my main point, those who continue to talk to this government get agreements. Agreements where the government moves from its publicly stated objectives and directives. This has been proven time and again, with the government being patient enough to wait for everyone to come back to the table.
ETFO lost in the last round because it held out trying to punish or make a point against the government. It's convinced it can do so again. The others, while as bold on that podium on July 6, seem to realize there's always value in going back to the table.
This government likes to talk-- and those who keep talking with it tend to reach a deal.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Labouring through the summer

What a fascinating week in labour relations for the K-12 educational sector in Ontario.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreement between the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) and the province, available here and embedded below thanks to the Globe and Mail, is a scintillating read.
There are a few things that were glossed over in the rush to publish on the deal, the July 5 announcement and the July 6 reaction from the other federations and unions that are part of the sector. That reporting focused on wage freezes, unpaid professional development days and the like. I'd like to point out other stuff, 'cause that's what this space is kinda supposed to be about.
  • Some were reporting the few Catholic teachers who still have retirement gratuities would lose them as they've been cancelled. Indeed they have, from Sept. 1 onwards. But on Sept. 1, any unpaid days up to the max allowed in each local agreement are vested. Once vested and the teacher retires, those days will be paid out. This does not eliminate the long-term liability to school boards and by extension the government, but it does prevent it from growing.
  • The bigger, more substantial changes to long-term and short-term disability plans beyond the annual sick days are subject to a further agreement between the Ontario Teachers' Federation and the government. Given how, uh, welcoming the others were to this MOU, that'll be a big hill to climb.
  • Post-retirement benefits change effective Sept. 1, 2013, with retirees separated into their own experience pool for which they alone will cover costs of coverage. This is a key concession, though I'm unaware of its dollar value -- one that will likely lower experience ratings and benefit payments for working teachers.
  • My read on the unpaid PD days? They're to come from the existing allotment of days on the calendars as already submitted to the ministry.
  • Funding for individual PD for elementary teachers and expansion of secondary programming (the latter referenced in the 2008-12 provincial discussion table agreements) is gone.
  • Classroom teachers retain the individual right to choose assessment tools, providing they fit within the scope of the (yet unreleased) policy and program memorandum on the "effective use of diagnostic assessments."
  • Without knowing the conditions of individual collective agreements and the PDTs from 2008-12 on how occasional teachers move up grids and compete for placements and full-time, permanent contracts, I can't determine whether the portions of the MOU here are that different from existing practice.
  • This MOU does include a "me too" clause for any other agreements the province signs in the sector-- meaning that as long as OECTA and Catholic boards follow their MOU, they'll also be able to benefit from other agreements. That same section also notes that all school board employees are to be covered by the wage freeze put in place by the government.
  • My favourite section of the entire document, given by Twitter griping Friday-- "consultations... to develop the appropriate legislative and regulatory framework for provincial bargaining that would, if approved by the legislature, take effect Jan. 1, 2014."
Thank god, pun intended, the province is being honest about its intentions when it comes to bargaining. The money to fund every one of the agreements with the 72 publicly funded school boards in Ontario comes from one source -- the provincial government. Since 1998, the federations have always had the upper hand with district school boards in negotiations. No one with a sane mind can claim that a union with a provincial table officer present is in any way equivalent to a school board. The unions have been conducting provincial bargaining since 1998 if not earlier and the public and Catholic school board trustees' associations are weak by comparison. A move to provincial bargaining simply recognizes the reality that school boards aren't power players in bargaining with sector workers and haven't been for 14 years.
This would also avoid the silliness of what the federations who walked away from the provincial discussions -- let's not forget they walked away as they await their invitation to return -- so they can bargain with their employer of record at the school board level. As though any board would agree to crap where it eats by agreeing to fund something the province isn't giving it money to cover. Most boards have enough of a challenge paying for the things the province provides funding to cover.
There's been plenty of reporting on the OECTA announcement, as well as the reaction the following day, much of it commendable since there are so few education reporters in Ontario. However, take the time to read the MOU for yourself. Linked above, embedded below.
PDF Version MOU OECTA and Gov't of Ont Jul5-2 12

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wishing, and hoping... for an unlikely moratorium

After all the time I've spent monitoring and reporting on this beat, I can't help but continue to be surprised by how every community re-invents the wheel when it comes to the question of school closures.
Here's an example (just one) from Niagara Region, where an MPP is calling for yet another moratorium on school closures. I also look at sites such as the Peterborough-based Save Local Schools and wonder. A May 12, supposedly provincewide rally against the existing school-closure process in this province saw a grand total of eight communities participate (Cambridge, Cobourg, Hamilton, Kingston, Norwood, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Sudbury and Welland), with only six school districts therein.
Ottawa, where the question of closing under-capacity schools in the city's urban core and the constant demand for more accommodation in the exurbs has yet to be comprehensively addressed, particularly within the public school board.
Toronto, which continues to have the highest vacancy rate in the province but has kept avoiding the massive slate of school closures and consolidations for a variety of reasons.
Anywhere further north than Sudbury-- because many of these boards have already done several rounds of closures and consolidations and people are living with the consequences of that time. As they are in rural eastern Ontario (Upper Canada DSB, I'm looking at you) as well as comprehensive swaths of midwestern and southwestern Ontario.
Many of their points have merit-- district school boards are not as small as the township and city -- or the county -- boards they replaced. The review process isn't an appeal and no one in government (or out of it) seems to be willing to strip a district school board of one of the few responsibilities that still lies entirely within its domain-- pupil accommodation. Overwhelmingly, however, this opposition is rooted in the status quo, NIMBYism and the reluctance to accept any change.
This is not going away. There will be no moratorium. The harsh reality is that there are plenty of schools in Ontario built in the 1950s and 1960s (or earlier) with too many vacant pupil places. It appears 2012-13 and beyond are finally the time when Ontario's Ministry of Education will live up to its often-issued threat to cut declining enrolment grants. These grants have allowed many school boards to postpone the drastic changes they needed to make in order to right-size the facilities in their districts. They're going away.
Which means (with credit to former Thames Valley DSB director of education John Thorpe) there are difficult choices to make. There will increasingly be two choices: Fund the buildings you have today to keep as many of them open as possible with nothing left over to modernize them. Or you decide to spend less on your bricks and mortar-- close, consolidate, renovate, bring as many facilities up to modern standards as possible to run them as efficiently as possible and spend all those savings on programs.
To those who would advocate the status quo, which will it be?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dance with the one that funds you

As of this week, by my count, only one (two?) teachers' federation remains at the provincial discussion table with the Ontario Ministry of Education. Only the Ontario English Catholic Teaches' Association (OECTA) and maybe one of the French-language teachers' unions remain at the table.
For those catching up, the PDTs are the vehicle by which the bulk of collective agreements in the K-12 education sector in Ontario have been settled since the Liberals took office in 2003. It's one way of settling the big questions revolving around money and provincewide working conditions at a single table, producing a template shell of an agreement that can be taken back to the 72 publicly funded school boards to finalize local issues and ratify.
Though the Liberals have approached the PDTs in a different way for each round of contracts, they have until now produced good contracts for teachers and other people working in the education sector as per-pupil spending has surpassed $10,000 per student.
It's the PDTs that have given teachers good contracts. So good, as I've written before, that those at the top of their grids will be on the so-called Sunshine List in either 2013 of 2014 by way of simple compound mathematics.
As written in May 2009;
Anyone making $88K in those employee groups on Aug. 31, 2008, just signed a deal in the last nine months that will see them reach $100K by 2012. Meaning in either 2013 or 2014, they'll be on the Sunshine List too.
I make no apologies-- but for a classroom teacher that's a very good compensation package. In Ontario, teachers and other workers in the education sector are fairly compensated for their educational and work-experience backgrounds.
PDTs also make sense because since 1998, the province funds almost all of the revenues received by a school board. While the step of full-on provincial bargaining has never actually happened, you're living in a fantasy world if you don't think the federations haven't been bargaining provincially for years. The routine appointment of a provincial table officer at all local negotiations is only the first proof of this.
At the PDT, the federations, school boards and government would come to an agreement on what would be funded and what the money would be used to accomplish. It's been successful and has drawn attention around the world for how to set goals and then orient an entire sector to reach for them.
This year, the province publicly launched negotiations by stating all the things it wouldn't do-- give raises in the first two years, allow for anyone to climb the grid, etc. Here's the thing though-- even with those take-it-or-leave-it public statements, the money available (though continually directed at provincial priorities) isn't dropping. Job losses in the sector are due almost entirely to declining enrolment, not cuts to specific programs-- though specific programs are under the gun where there are not enough students to support them.
This government has a knack for making bold statements in public, but then sitting down and working out a deal. The federations have run away from that table -- perhaps hoping a "me too" clause can save whatever deal is worked out with those who remain behind.
This whole thing is a long dance-- negotiations always are -- and it's far from over as I don't expect any labour issues until at least September, but 2013 would be a safer bet.
The federations that have walked away may be counting on public sympathy, but after eight generous years, it's doubtful they'll find in in the same way they did during previous government tenures.
Further, while the employer of record is still the local school board, my faith that local boards will negotiate to pay for things with money they haven't been given is non-existent.
The smart thing here is to come back to the table and keep talking. You gotta keep the dance going or risk being left outside the dance hall when the band and rental contract are signed for another four years-- just ask the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, who managed to lose parity for walking away in 2008-09.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Peterborites take notice

Peterborough College and Vocational School (PCVS) supporters have had a buoyant few weeks.
As followers of the time line for the school would know, it was recently spoken about on CBC Radio Q on March 29. That was the week the nation learned PCVS students and their community had -- in an initiative at least one supporter took pains to tell me over twitter was NOT related to ongoing save-PCVS advocacy -- won the "Spread the Net" challenge.
Which earned the school a coveted spot on the Rick Mercer Report's season finale last week where he even, mirroring the rant done by the current student council president, ranted about it. Bravo. A coincidentally orchestrated collision of gushing media coverage that while not really about the school closing was really and entirely about the opposition that remains to that school closing. That was impressive.
Unfortunately, and particularly when under the gun or after the decision's been made to close a school, many many many schools are fantastic and the greatest schools ever where people are encouraged to be all they can be and no one is ever bullied and every course that anyone ever wants to take is offered ... and... and... so on. While PCVS is impressive for all these things, its heritage and more, it's not unique in those respects. It's not every school, but it's not the only school.
Call me jaded and skeptical or stupid or whatever. For over three years I've been reading and learning about every school closure in this province that got even an ounce of media coverage and even covered a few myself. The wheel has been reinvented so many times on how communities react and plan on this I've lost count. Just tonight I was monitoring a storyline in St. Catharines / Thorold seemingly headed in exactly the same direction as this Peterborough decision.
'Twas shortly before this supporters learned of facilitator Joan Greene's report, completed after the community petitioned the decision of the Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB trustees made in September. It found two "technical" violations of the KPRDSB's own accommodation review guidelines, but not enough to warrant recommending the board repeat the review.
The community is now banking on the publicity earned by its recent showcases and amassing dollars for a judicial review of the board's decision. While I seriously, seriously doubt it will be successful in overturning the decision (based exclusively on not having learned of a successful judicial-review reversal yet after some extensive research), I plead with anyone interested in this situation to take heed. Temper your expectations.
Be very, very aware of what a judicial review can and cannot accomplish. Search for and read through the many, many posts here in this space regarding Niagara District Secondary School in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They went through the judicial review process after waiting too long and as a result the request was quashed. No sense reviewing what has already proceeded too quickly and substantially along to reverse.
I'm no lawyer, but if the fundraising target is met and the decision is made to proceed, the moment after that application for judicial review is filed it might be prudent to file a series of applications for injunctions. One to stop PCVS from closing until the judicial review is either complete or the application is rejected by the court. Another to pause the work -- renovations, etc. -- being done at the receiving school, Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School (TASSS). The fact this work has continued helps put several nails in the coffin.
I don't fault the board for moving forward. It has to or else no school board anywhere would ever be able to close a school and plan for what happens next. A process that already takes 18 months to two years would never end. Given the province seems to finally be getting serious about ending the perpetual declining-enrolment adjustment grant, this is a scenario, along with other school closures, that will repeat itself. Unless, of course, we all starting having many more babies and find a way to also magically and instantly create a bunch of eight-to-12-year-olds kids.
Speaking of planning for what happens next, PCVS supporters need to be prepared for all outcomes. Life goes on and appropriate attention needs to be paid to ensure students are taken care of next year and the year after and after. Don't short the PCVS students of today by refusing to accept the school will close in June and its students will be accommodated at TASSS in the fall. Then you're only creating the self-sustaining storyline. Suggestions on local media comment boards that save-PCVSers discouraged students from completing course-selection properly for the fall are simply discouraging to read even when I doubt it may have happened.
PCVS may very well be the best school ever. But if a judicial review doesn't keep it that way, then students deserve only the same, very best in their receiving schools.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Now 'tumbling' what I've been reading

I've made a change to the setup around here to better recognize the differences in how I've used this space. I'm happy that as of now, instead of creating aggregation posts as I've increasingly done in the past year, those will now live on a Tumblr page at
I've fed the RSS feed of that page onto a panel right below my profile at right featuring the most recent five items. To go directly to the tumblr page, there is also a direct link above.
Why do this?
I've been finding in recent months the original idea of posting something here about every K-12 education web article I'd read was becoming increasingly difficult to do with other constraints on my time.
Facing a slew of open browser tabs every time I wanted to write about something really important or do original reporting of some kind was discouraging.
By aggregating those clips into a separate area, it's my hope this space here on the blog will open for more content posts-- opinion and analysis as well as original material.
Any feedback and thoughts on this new arrangement are encouraged!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mother of all aggregation posts

Here's what's been coming across the desk in the last month.
Governance / Curriculum
Happy reading. No Drummond here-- still saving that more a separate, in-depth post.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Early February tab dump

One week generated a lot of education coverage in the ol' inbox.
  • The Sudbury Star letter on the public being shut out / stage-managed at a school-review meeting;
  • The Northern News on a school-closure tied to an enrolment threshold, with busing implications, with the board meeting coverage later in the week;
  • The Sault Star on a new French-language school's solar roof;
  • The Barrie Examiner on a new Catholic elementary school review kicking off in the north end of that city;
  • The Strathroy Age-Dispatch on post-closure boundary adjustments (or lack thereof);
  • The Sudbury Star on the Near North DSB's decision to freeze all school reviews (!!);
  • The Sudbury Star on the latest 'green' school construction;
  • The St. Catharines Standard on a community resigned to closure of its Catholic elementary school;
  • The Niagara Falls Review on the vote to close a Catholic elementary school; and,
  • The Standard again with coverage of the St. Catharines - Thorold high school review meeting, and a post-meeting proposal to shift lines on a map.
Enrolment / demographics
  • The Owen Sound Sun Times on a parent's concern too many public-school-supporter families' children are attending Catholic school;

  • The London Free Press on ad campaigns from coterminous boards in the region targeting different age groups; and,
  • The Toronto Star's moneyville on people making correlations between test scores and housing prices.
Governance / curricula
  • The Chatham This Week localizes the bus consortium RFP impact;
  • The Toronto Star's coverage of a teacher taking his former Catholic principal before the Ontario College of Teachers over the GSA issue;
  • The St. Catharines Standard on teachers and technology;
  • The North Bay Nugget on vending-machine revenue drops;
  • The Star's QP columnist (among others), takes on Dalton vs. the Catholic school system over the GSA issue;
  • The Brockville Recorder and Times with a editorial in support (which is rare, of late) of school-bus consortiums;
  • The Pembroke Observer's coverage of the Catholic board's strategic-plan review;
  • The Hamilton Spectator on a Hamilton-Wentworth DSB trustee's move to have a full external review of how the board does its thing; and,
  • The mayor in the Northern News piece mentioned above bristles at the critique from the board he enrols his own kids elsewhere.
The Moneyville piece had me thinking-- that's really not what the data was meant to support, but in a way it does reflect the continuing reality of what the data shows. Those who are better off in life do better in school. Those who are not don't do as well. But what preceded what? A noggin' scratcher of a chicken-and-egg that one is.
The Free Press piece also had me laughing, as this is the district I used to cover. The public board knows it loses kids to the Catholic system in Grade 9, whose schools are bigger, more modern, etc. etc. The Catholic board is being slammed by declining enrolment in elementary and trying to keep its smaller number of full-day kindergarten sites as attractive compared to the larger selection of public sites.
More on ARC stuff and the continuing GSA saga (and yes, that's what it's becoming) in other posts.

Monday, January 30, 2012


Though the speculation today is all about what changes may be coming to the healthcare system (delisting things from OHIP, etc.), I have no doubt the players in our provincial education system are watching carefully.
The reports came out earlier this month across all media about consultant Don Drummond's pending report to the McGuinty government with its cost-containment recommendations. As health and education are (in that order) the province's biggest bills, keeping an eye on how the overall report is released and its recommendations received is important for both sectors.
What did we learn earlier this month?
The biggest ed-related item was a call for the province to re-evaluate its primary class size (PCS) program. As most familiar with it would know, this investment in education came out of the Liberals' first mandate, when it was a centrepiece of the party's education platform. With the odd exception here or there within a handful of years, 90% of the province's kindergarten through Grade 3 classes had ratios of 20 students to one teacher. The remaining 10% had a hard cap of no more than 23 students to one teacher.
That ratio changed a bit in the early years / kindergarten classes as full-day kindergarten gets rolled out across the province, as it allows up to 26 students to one teacher and one early childhood educator.
The edu-academics were all over the PCS from when it was first announced -- as were some school boards who identified they would have issues with providing the necessary physical classroom space. The research is, to be fair, varied on class size vs. other factors when it comes to student improvement. Fewer than 20 students with a poorly trained teacher do worse than 30 students with a well-trained teacher, etc.
The PCS always sold well with parents however. Parents who vote. Who were tired of seeing a blended class size average in elementary of 26 (with boards being allowed to push that to 27 under some circumstances). Some of that excitement faded with the increase in split-grade classes caused when PCS was implemented, but a big portion of that was how the system reacted to a class cap combined with overall declining enrolment.
Will it become the sacrificial lamb to squeeze money out of education spending? I'm doubtful a government led by a premier who has long fashioned himself as an "education premier" would start hacking away at one of the key parts of the platform that won him a first majority government.
Similarly, most new funding in education is being directed at FDK implementation-- something all three parties supported in the campaign, so it's doubtful there'll be many chainsaws taken to that program unless people change their tunes (again).
Something that didn't come out? Both the PCS and FDK initiatives have helped stem job losses in the ranks of teachers as they bolstered staffing in years that declining enrolment was having its biggest impact. That population decline is now set to move through high schools twice as fast as it moved through the K-8 panel-- and with all of the Learning to 18 programs now fully implemented, there won't be many new programs to save jobs when the student numbers are no longer there to support them.
Given it's doubtful the province will ask its education-sector employee federations to agree to zero-increase contracts, the path ahead for the Liberals may be in trying to balance the expected decline in staffing (particularly in secondary) with any increases in wages and benefits. Keep it at a net-zero level and you can make it through a mandate without allowing education spending to balloon.
More on this once Drummond's recommendations go public.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

January browser-tab dump

Back to my recent habits of tabbing up by browser until I hit this point.
Governance / Curricula
Haven't touched too much on the continuing gay-straight alliance kerfuffles (my views on this for regular readers are well-known), nor the speculation over what Don Drummond might include in his recommendations, which I'll write a separate post on.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Looking in both directions

Here's to looking back at 2011 and looking ahead to 2012 in the world of K-12 education in this province, as well as a chance to reflect on what's been in this space in the last 12 months. As I wrote about for my employer, 2011 was a year of change from the fellowship back to my former job to a new post starting in August.
In the past year this space has seen just over 3,800 visitors, a slight majority of whom had been here at least once before. Traffic was highest in the winter and early spring when the fellowship granted lots of time for posting and waned throughout the rest of the calendar year as I went back to work (bad blogger, bad).
Here were the posts that drew the largest audiences:
  1. Full-day kindergarten = ECE shortage? (a post from 2009)
  2. Keep those EQAO envelopes sealed
  3. Mapping our Full-day Kindergarten
  4. Bil 177 (another post from 2009)
  5. Ontario's next education minister is (noting my guesses were all wrong)
  6. On teaching (from 2010)
  7. A thought on teacher education and the job market (another from 2010)
  8. DSBN Academy coverage keeps growing
  9. My long goodbye to OISE
  10. Defenders of the faith(-based)
When 40% of the most-viewed posts are not from the immediate past year, it's a signal to me I need to be posting more in this space. Alas, I have been negligent in living up to the promise of its purpose when it was launched in early 2009. I've reflected on just how I was able to do it then-- I would come home at whatever hour and commit to writing at least one new post a day. If it wasn't comment on coverage elsewhere, it would be original opinion, analysis or outright reporting. My posts on Bill 177 and Bill 242 are among very few that look at the legislation that are out there, and both keep drawing traffic.
Here's my cut of the top issues in K-12 Ontario education of 2011:
  • Bullying became the worst thing ever about any school system this year. Unfortunately helped by a number of well-publicized suicides where this harassment was either known or suspected to be the primary cause, along with the politicization of Gay-Straight Alliances as some sort of bullying cure-all, bullying has been on everyone's tongue throughout the year. I'm curious as to whether it will result in meaningful action in 2012.
  • School accommodation / demographic shift continues, though not as noisily in most areas of the province as it has in the last few years. Many boards outside the GTA have tackled their first few rounds of school-closure reviews, petitions and post-review openings. The Toronto boards also began tackling this, though not as assertively as they probably need to in order to keep up. Towards the end of the year the Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School decision raised eyebrows (and the dander of many) showing accommodation issues are by no means ever a dead issue.
  • A new minister came to the portfolio in October after the scrappy Leona Dombrowsky was sent into political retirement by the voters in Belleville and area. Laurel Broten was appointed minister to the surprise of many (or maybe just me) after previous stints in Environment and Children and Youth Services. She's been pushed with the reaction to Bill 13, but like every minister since Sandra Pupatello and her predecessor Gerard Kennedy, the steps out of the spotlight to allow Premier Dalton McGuinty to fulfill his "education premier" desire.
  • Full-day kindergarten continues to drive the education agenda provincially. Though the 2011-12 crop of new schools is the smallest cohort of the five years, the issue of before- and after-school care for four- and five-year-olds isn't settled across the province. Its popularity even drove the PC Party of Ontario leader Tim Hudak to do a 180 on the program, going from labelling it another Liberal Cadillac program to saying he would support implementation as proposed. While the components of the original Pascal Report flowing from FDK for 6-12-year-olds were part of the Liberals' election platform, rollout timing is indeterminate in this minority Parliament.
In a similar vein, here are some thoughts on what should be tracked in the coming twelve months:
  • Money will be key to everything in 2012-- the province's debt and deficit will become a focus of the pending provincial budget. While no one in opposition would likely defeat a budget based on health care or education spending (which will likely be almost 3/4 of all provincial spending), those in the know are well aware that every passing year will be a bigger budget challenge. New spending on capital projects will by and large be to support implementation of full-day kindergarten. There will likely be a kitty to tap into for employee contracts (more on that below) and some token amounts to keep up with rising utility and other non-staffing costs, but the years of pilfering to support old buildings over programs and people in those buildings are coming to an end and boards that are supporting too many older buildings or vacant pupil places will have a tough time tackling 2012-13 budgets in June.
  • The bullying theme will stubbornly stick around-- a Liberal minority in the legislature may very well capitulate on controversial sections of Bill 13 in committee if it wishes to see the bill come back for third reading before the legislature rises for the summer break. This will serve as the next step in the premier's initiative to get character development further entrenched into the curricula.
  • Just for kicks, it might be worth tracking whether election-campaign promises, such as the wraparound programming for 6-to-12-year-olds, the two-year teachers' college and the one or two others get implemented in the coming year.
  • Finally, I do think the contracts will be an issue in this year. They do expire on Aug. 31, after all. I would have a litter of kittens if any agreements of significance were ratified (at provincial discussion tables or locally) before the end of this calendar year however. I don't believe any of the parties have given big signals on priorities for the next agreement -- other than the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario trying to reach the parity their executive pissed away in the standoff over the 2008-12 agreements. The back half of this year will likely, particularly after annual meeting season in the summer, feature an entrenchment as the various unions and federations stake out what they think a minority Liberal government can get them and the Liberals mark their turf. I wouldn't expect any battle stations to be manned until some time between March Break and summer vacation 2013 though.
 This space has been less in 2011. All the same, thanks to those who stop by searching for something and those who continue to read and comment on the posts. At some point in the coming months the blog will see its 30,000th visitor and though small as far as the web goes, that's better than I could have predicted when I started doing this.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year's browser-tab dump!

How seasonal!
Here's what I've been clicking on these last few weeks:
  • The Welland Tribune on how the Niagara Catholic DSB handled some after-semiformal dance destruction;
  • The Ingersoll Times on a push for busing to a new school;
  • The Hamilton Spectator on a trustee arguing a probe into her own conduct was unjustified;
  • An Op-Ed from the Windsor Star on the role of principals;
  • The Goderich Signal-Star with an Avon Maitland DSB chair preview of the year ahead;
  • The Spec with a survey piece on working conditions for local trustees;
  • Moira MacDonald previews what she believes will be the battle ahead with contract negotiations in The Toronto Sun;
  • The Belleville Intelligencer with a look at the "stormy seas" ahead; and,
  • The Sault Star on a lawsuit settlement between the Huron-Superior Catholic DSB and a former director of education.
Curriculum / other

A good smattering of items. I remain bemused by the campaign around PCVS, which with every ready seems more about saving a building than it is saving programs or students. The suggestion in Goderich to reverse the flow of students from urban to rural is interesting.
I really liked that Metroland Kawartha tackled the Sec. 23 schools. I've written about alternative schools before, but never Sec. 23 schools. Nor do I remember reading about them elsewhere.
While I do predict a battle ahead on teacher contracts, I don't see that happening in 2012 based on how long it's taken in previous rounds to settle contracts.